NASHVILLE -- He was a 29-year-old night-shift manager at Rover Group's body plant near Oxford, England, when he applied to work at a new Nissan Motor Co. factory far to the north in Sunderland. Neighbors and colleagues warned him that the Japanese automaker was unproven. They said the plant probably would be gone in five to 10 years.
But 27 years on, Colin Dodge has done all right. Now silver-haired with a thick white mustache at 56, Dodge was named chairman of Nissan's Americas region this summer, in charge of the United States and all markets north and south of it. That title, on top of a list of other corporate jobs, means that he now presides over about half of the planet for Japan's No. 2 automaker -- North America, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and India.
Dodge flies into Nashville monthly to meet at the Americas headquarters. His Tennessee executives have taken him to see American football to convince him it is as good as soccer, and he is seen around the headquarters building in casual khakis and no necktie.
The U.S. market is not really his biggest chore. Nissan North America weathered the 2008-10 economic crisis well and has been adding market share consistently here for three years.
Nissan is hiring 1,000 workers to accelerate production in the Smyrna, Tenn., plant. And Nissan is also quietly considering another new North American auto assembly site where it could build a new Infiniti small car.
Mexico is doing even better. Nissan is on fire there, leading the market with a 25-percent share.
Dodge's big challenge in the Americas is Brazil. It is a booming market, but Nissan remains a bit player. Nissan sales have been growing there but so has the market -- Nissan says its share remains a meager 1.7 percent. Nissan revealed in October that it will build a $1.5 billion factory in Brazil to supply some of the 10 new models the company wants to introduce over the next five years.
Despite the relative comfort of the U.S. market, Dodge has some strategic plans here.
After decades of Nissan being the market's No. 3 import brand, Dodge wants to unseat Honda for the No. 2 slot here. That would be unprecedented, but Dodge expresses the goal nonchalantly.
"There are only two countries in the world that Honda outsells us, and that's Thailand and America," he says in his sporty British accent. "In Europe, we can beat Honda and Toyota."
The March Japanese earthquake created an unexpected opportunity. Efforts to get Nissan's plants and supply chains back up quickly meant that Nissan's U.S. dealers received full deliveries all summer while Honda and Toyota dealers lacked inventory. Nissan executives urged dealers to sell aggressively.
As a result, Nissan's mid-sized Altima has outsold Honda's Accord every month since May -- a feat that would have been unthinkable five years ago. In October, the Altima even came within 206 cars of outselling the Toyota Camry, the best-selling car in America.
Dodge has the infectious habit of sometimes cracking a sly smile and chuckling in midsentence, as though he is having trouble containing his glee over his good fortune. Or as though the work is coming easily to him -- even when mentioning another bold goal: capturing 10 percent of the U.S. market.
"We've got all the technology available in the world," he says, referring to the combined global resources of the Renault-Nissan alliance. "There's nothing we haven't got. There's nothing left except a little bit of time required to get our sales experience and brand power up for us to naturally take 10 percent of the American market."
At the end of October, it stood at 8.1 percent -- up from 7.8 percent for the first 10 months of 2010.